Jim Kelly, still fighting cancer, accepts Jimmy V Award at ESPYs

Dan Marino, left, and John Elway present the Jimmy V award for perseverance to Jim Kelly, right, at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday at Los Angeles. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision/AP)
Dan Marino, left, and John Elway present the Jimmy V award for perseverance to Jim Kelly, right, at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday at Los Angeles. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision/AP)

Kelly Strong.

Former Bills quarterback and Hall of Famer Jim Kelly delivered an impassioned speech Wednesday at the ESPYs in Los Angeles, imploring those listening to be "difference-makers" in their daily lives.

Kelly, who has beaten jaw cancer twice and is now fighting the disease for a third time, took the stage at Staples Center after winning the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, named after the late Jim Valvano.

"I came up with a saying," Kelly said toward the end of his speech, after thanking his family, friends and former Bills teammates. "Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow. When I looked across this arena and when I talk to people and I look at people — you don't need to be a Russell Wilson, an Aaron Rodgers to make a difference out there. Every single person in this room can be a difference-maker.

"You can be just a normal person who gets up every morning and goes to work. But you can be a difference-maker, putting a smile on those faces. My kids, my friends, when they came in to see me (at the hospital), not once did they ever have a frown on their face. So I urge anybody out there, if you have somebody out there who's suffering — it doesn't have to be cancer, it can be somebody not having a good day, it could be your mom, your dad, it could be your grandparents — what you say to them and the smile that you have on your face, that can be the difference between them making it to the next day. Remember that. Always, always persevere."

Before Kelly, 58, was given the award, ESPN played a piece detailing his post-football life, a time filled with a great deal of strife but also considerable inspiration.

Kelly's son Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe disease — a rare and often fatal genetic disorder — shortly after his birth in 1997. Hunter died in 2005 at eight years old, and the loss significantly affected Kelly, who was brought to tears at the start of his speech when discussing his first child. Kelly started a foundation in Hunter's honor, Hunter's Hope, which focuses on providing support for those battling Krabbe disease through education, awareness, research and family care.

"Wow. It is never easy watching video about my son," Kelly said through tears. "So many times I've dreamt and continue to dream about my son Hunter and what he's meant in my life. They will never stop."

Kelly was joined on stage by his two daughters, Erin and Camryn, and Hall of Famers Dan Marino and John Elway, who, along with Kelly, were taken in the 1983 NFL draft.

"I just reflect back on some of the things we've been through and some of the things we went through and all of the good times," Kelly said, speaking to Elway and Marino.

"John, on behalf of the class of 1983, the five other quarterbacks, thank you for winning two Super Bowls for us," Kelly said in a moment of levity. "We appreciate that."

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